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Life Lessons From The C-Suite Shari Runner President/CEO of the Chicago Urban League

Life Lessons From The C-Suite Shari Runner President/CEO of the Chicago Urban League

As an aspiring professional in Chicago, being able to find and connect with leaders of industry can prove difficult for those not well plugged in. Enter Life Lessons from The C-Suite, where you gain insight and learn from those that have achieved levels of success we aspire towards even if they can’t be our one-one mentors. Life Lessons from the C-Suite’ hopes to serve as a mentor bridge, where Chicago or Chicago connected industry leaders offer advice and share some things that has helped them on the path of success and help inspire next generation leaders; in a way questions one would ask a mentor.



To re kick off this series we talked to Shari Runner, President and CEO of Chicago Urban League. With an increase in violence and inequality plaguing parts of the country including Chicago, Shari Runner is on mission to inspire the youth and empower African American lives. Before going into the non-profit world, she was in finance so numbers and analytics are her strong suits. Ms. Runner received her MBA from The University of Chicago Booth School of Business and her undergrad from Wesleyan University. She also sits and/or serves several non-profit boards within the city. Read below on advice she gives aspiring professionals, morning routines and more.

What daily habits would you suggest for an aspiring leader?
I think exercise is critical. I think meditation or some kind of prayer, for whatever is your predilection. And reading the news from all sources, reading all the things that come out, all the global and national papers and magazines.

Is there any particular magazine or newspaper that you prefer to get your news?
I like The Atlantic.

What advice did someone give you as you began your career that’s helped you through?
I think that the best advice I was given as a very young banker was to always be aware of the recourses around you; Don’t get caught in the stereotype of who you are. Make sure to reach out to all sorts of people so that they know who you are and what you do, because you often find out things about people, and they’ll find out things about you that you wouldn’t know if you don’t take those risks.

You went from finance and a more corporate setting to working for the Chicago Urban League, which is a non-profit. What made you make the switch from corporate to non-profit?
It was actually a gradual evolution, I went from a cooperate environment to being an entrepreneur, running my own business for several years and then eventually came to the Chicago Urban League, but my background has always been that, even when I was in cooperate America, that I would volunteer and sit on the boards of not-for-profit organizations. I just have a passion for the work, and so it was a natural thing for me to transfer to being an employee of a not-for-profit.

Do you think having a mother who was a social worker influenced your career evolution?
It influenced this particular job, because when I was growing up, these were the kinds of things that were dinner table conversations for us: the issues that face African Americans in America, what kinds of solutions there could be. So that was an important part of my upbringing.

Shari Runner_CUL_IMPACT launch


What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
I would say don’t be impulsive and emotional so much. Try to be more focused on the long term rather than the immediate satisfaction of things.

In any field, there are a lot of setbacks and moments where you feel like you should just quit or give up, and I imagine that in working for not-for-profits, there are even more moments like that. Do you have any advice for getting through those moments where you feel like you should just quit?
Yeah, I think the most important thing there, again, is keeping your eye on the prize. You’re always going to have setbacks, there is very rarely or never a streamline from your original place to your goal. There’s this drawing that they have that shows this straight line, an arrow going from where you are now to your goal, and they say “This is what people think it looks like, but what it really looks like is this squiggly line that takes all kinds of dips and turns. I think acknowledging that and knowing that is going to probably be the case, and having some contingencies for when those things happen is probably the most important thing to keep in mind. You have to live in the moment, but you can’t let the moment take you out.

Did you have a mentor growing up, and how have they influenced you?
I had all kinds of mentors and supporters. They have always been able to take me to the side and tell me when they think I’m getting off track. They have always been people that are forthright and really push on getting through. And at any given time, when there are life upsets outside of your career, the mentors are very important in terms of being a sounding board in terms of what you are thinking and what you are doing.

And how did you find those mentors? Were they family members or people you worked for?
Well, my family is big and extended, so biological family members are mentors, but also my extended family who considered ourselves friends, they have been available to be as well. I think that’s part of that advice that was given to me early on, sometimes you’ve got to have a mutual finding of a mentor. The mentor has to find you as well as you have to find the mentor, so it’s important to not be afraid of talk to people and discuss with people. You’ll be able to figure out who that mentor is, who’s advice is best for you, what are those things that people are telling you that seen to have the most merit for you. Cast a wide net. Don’t restrict yourself to a certain type of person, because you’ll never know who will have the best advice for you.

How can or do you constantly challenge yourself?
Well, I think that’s kinda just me. I challenge myself because it’s never enough. You have to think about what’s coming next. I think in this environment, not being afraid to try things is the most important thin. With technology being the way it is, there’s always something new and different happening. The way you are comfortable doing things will change completely in eighteen months, and you have to be aware of how to experiment. The knowledge of knowing how to learn something and how to adapt is really critical, and staying abreast of what’s going is challenging in and of itself.

~Laura Barker

edited for length and clarity

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